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  3. Construction company bans beards sparking health and safety row

A row has erupted after a construction company banned its workforce from having beards, on grounds of health and safety.

Mears Group PLC had spoken to workers during a “tool box talk” at Tower Hamlets in East London, advising them that beards were banned so that dust masks could be fitted safely. According to the construction firm, so that dust masks can be worn safely and effectively when working in a dusty environment, workers must be clean shaven. Exceptions will only be made for workers with medical or religious reasons, with documentary evidence of this required.

Unite, the UK's largest union, has labelled the decision as “penny-pinching stupidity” and has obtained a letter from Mears Group confirming the decision, which it states is now nationwide policy for the whole group. According to the letter, a goatee beard will be permitted as long as it doesn't prevent the dust masks from fitting correctly.

Unite states that there are other types of mask available which should be offered to the workforce. Susan Murray, the health and safety adviser for Unite, said that the company should consider the diversity of the workforce, consulting and providing a choice of alternative personal protective equipment (PPE). The health and safety director for Mears, Mark Elkington, said that all employers have a duty of care to their workforce, and if dust masks were being worn incorrectly due to a beard preventing a seal being formed with the skin, they would be prosecuted.

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